Alban Berg, classical music composer

Alban Berg image

Alban Berg


Regarded today as an important composer of the early 20th century and the more emotional member of the Second Viennese School, Alban Berg combined Schoenberg's twelve-tone system with elements of the late Romantic period (particularly those of Mahler) to create a more accessible style compared to his colleagues. Born in Vienna on February 9, 1885, the third of four children, Berg was more interested literature than music as a child. He began to teach himself music at the age of fifteen and took an interest in composing. Thus, when he began studying with Arnold Schoenberg in October 1904, Berg had little formal music education.

Berg studied with Schoenberg for six years, first studying the rudiments of music—counterpoint, theory and harmony—and then composition in 1907. His compositions as a pupil included his Seven Early Songs, three of which were his first publicly performed works. He also drafted five piano sonatas as a student. These sketches eventually coalesced into the Piano Sonata, Op. 1, published in 1910 and premiered a year later.

Studying under Schoenberg brought Berg into the cultural elite of Vienna which included Alexander von Zemlinsky, Gustav Klimt, Karl Kraus and Peter Altenberg. The terse poetic utterances of this last named colleague, Berg set in his Five Songs on Picture Postcard Texts by Peter Altenberg composed in 1912. The following year the work was premiered in Vienna under the baton of Schoenberg, yet was a far cry from a success for the composer. The performance resulted in a riot and was forced to stop. Berg was devastated over the outcome of the premiere and withdrew the work. It was not given a full performance until 1952, more than fifteen years after Berg's death, and then remained unpublished for nearly another fifteen years.

Following World War I, during which time he served in the Austrian Army, Berg returned to Vienna, teaching private lessons and helping his former teacher run his Society for Private Musical Performances. During these years, he also worked on completing his first opera, Wozzeck, on which work had stared in 1914. Completed in 1922, three excerpts from the opera were performed in 1924. This was Berg's first public success. The premiere of the entire opera followed in December of the next year in Berlin. With the success of Wozzeck, Berg began a second opera, Lulu, in 1929. However, he did not complete the orchestration of the third act before his death. Despite the completed first two acts being successfully premiered in 1937, Berg's widow refused the last act to be orchestrated. And, so it remained until 1979 when an orchestration was commissioned and the complete opera premiered in Paris.

Berg's work on Lulu was interrupted by a commission from the Russian-American violinist Louis Krasner for a violin concerto. Though the success of Wozzeck brought Berg significant royalties, he was nevertheless reduced to poverty in his last years and the commission brought Berg much needed finances. The result was the Violin Concerto composed in 1935. Berg, however, did not live to hear it premiered. On December 24 of that year, he succumbed to blood poisoning. Posthumously premiered, the Violin Concerto has since become one of Berg's most well-known compositions.

Composer Title Date Action
Alban Berg Sonata Op. 1 05/06/2011 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Jugendlieder Geliebte Schöne (Jessye Norman) 10/01/2011 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Violin Concerto 03/20/2012 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Sonata Op. 1 05/19/2012 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Die Nachtigall, from Sieben frühe Lieder 11/07/2011 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Schilflied, from Sieben frühe Lieder 11/07/2011 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Traumgekrönt, from Sieben frühe Lieder 11/07/2011 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Im Zimmer, from Sieben frühe Lieder 11/07/2011 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Liebesode, from Sieben frühe Lieder 11/07/2011 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Sommertage, from Sieben frühe Lieder 11/07/2011 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Wozzeck, Act 3, Scenes 2 and 3 02/08/2015 Play Add to playlist
Alban Berg Kammerkonzert 02/05/2017 Play Add to playlist